So – after being away for a bit – I am back – for a bit. Wedding is in two weeks, and my life seems to have been turned upside down with to-do lists and a full schedule leading up to the big day. I am back into my office today, after being at convention this weekend. I am the gal who registers everyone and anyone to the big event, so work was nutty for a while there.
I am just going back over some long shuffled emails and ran across this one from my friend Jim. I read it over again today – and remembered why I kept it.
An apologia for struggling
parishes in the Brave New World of mega-everything.
Not far away from wherever you are in Canada
there is a St. Hopeful’s Anglican Church. On average, its Sunday attendance ranges from 5 to 50 people. It may
have a coffee hour after Church, or a monthly potluck, and maybe a vibrant Bible
Study on Thursday evenings; but St. Hopeful’s can’t pay its Diocesan Assessment
or Apportionment. The question facing many bishops and Synods is simple: Should
it have a future? My answer: Absolutely, here’s why.
Whenever we are tempted to dismiss the
smallness of something, we should think of the Incarnation of our Lord and
Saviour – how did He come into this world? In the same way we all do — as a
tiny, vulnerable baby; he was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a young woman and
a first-time Mom; a “little” person by society’s standards. And where was He
born? Yes, in a barn, but where? In the town of Bethlehem, not in the city of
Jerusalem – ‘smalltown’ was God’s preferred Way. Why?
Why did God prefer ‘little’ to ‘big,’ and
‘humble’ to ‘powerful’ when He came down to this planet? He tells us plainly
through St. John: “For God so loved the world….” Why? Because of His perfect
love – His agape; His charity – He “loved the world” wrote St. John – not just
big cities, but the backwoods and the outports. So God’s love necessarily
reaches out to the smallest and the weakest; and, as human beings who face death
from the moment of our conception, that’s what we are: “Remember, O man, that
dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return.” In spite of all our big ideas, we
are just people: tiny and fragile, and totally dependent on the grace and mercy
So… a future of
No. God did not ordain small struggling rural
parishes for sympathy, but rather for mission and evangelism and for the cure,
or healing, of souls. Instead of looking on little congregations as
liabilities, the Lord would have us see them as members of Christ’s Body. In
fact, from what He tells us through St. Paul, He would have us take the
greatest care of them. “On the contrary,” wrote the apostle “the parts of the
body which seem to be weaker are indispensable…God has so composed the body,
giving the greater honor to the inferior part, that there may be no discord in
the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one
member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice
together.” (1 Corinthians 12.22, 24-26)
So, according to God’s design, “the little
guy” and the “small parish” really matter, just as the little children did to
the Lord Jesus. Why? Once again the answer is found in God’s grace. Think
about it: if only big parishes who can afford to “pay their way” are supported
by dioceses, we begin to practice a system of works rather than grace. This
runs contrary to the Cross, and it contradicts the parable of the lost
In opposition, then, to society’s obsession
with the “rich and famous” and with “important,self-sufficient” people, what did
Jesus say? He commanded his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all
nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the
Holy Ghost…” (St. Matthew 28:19).
But what are the building blocks of ‘all
You guessed it: settlements, districts,
villages and small towns. In other words, in order for us to be thorough in
making disciples of all nations, we must be systematic in our approach. At
least that’s what Theodore, the Archbishop of Canterbury in the 7th century,
thought. Adapting an already existing secular system of land division, Theodore
divided England up into small pieces called "dioceses,” and then subdivided
these into smaller pieces called "parishes.” These little building blocks
formed a connected and orderly network for evangelism and the cure of souls.
How completely opposite this approach is to the current trends toward
When the Anglican Church first came to Canada,
Theodore’s vision of mission was still alive and well in the hearts and minds of
our early bishops and missionaries. Local dioceses were established and were
quickly divided into parishes (some included parishes that even preexisted the
dioceses – urban and rural). The mission objective was clear: every small town,
every village, every outport, every city, was to be ministered to. The
economically strong were to help support the economically weak – and ideally,
none were to be neglected. The spiritual principle that lies at the heart of
our ‘parish system’ of Church life must be recovered if we are serious about
reaching ‘all nations’ within our dioceses.
So, should little St. Hopeful’s have a
future? Absolutely, for if we neglect it, or ignore it, or abandon it, we are
disobeying our Lord’s command to “Go.” And this command was not just a word, it
was his very life among us in his Incarnation – it is what he did for
I will post later about our special guest at convention, the Rt. Rev. Steven Charlston, but will only say now – WOW. If you do not know about this man – I highly suggest learning more about him. Try here. It’s just his work profile – so I am on a hunt to learn more to. He has a podcast here. Good stuff.